Inventory as Hit Points

Oof, it’s been a little while. Life goes on.

Finally got an opportunity to play my heartbreak homebrew system – Wretches & Riches (W&R) – with some non-family members, running through a one-shot of Fever Swamp with a smattering of travelling mechanics from Into The Wyrd & Wild. A fun session, encountering a trapped witch and an old monastery, and some very informative feedback came from it with regards to the game system itself.

Probably the biggest change to this heavily mutilated version of Knave, which I’m curious to try plugging in to other D&D-based systems, was the idea of merging inventory and Hit Points (HP).

I’m as familiar with computer games as the next geek, so I’m familiar with the idea of a bar which can be depleted and replenished unless it drops down to empty, and have been comfortable playing RPGs with that mechanic. It’s simple and pretty easy to grasp for non-gamers.

But it has the drawback of being a binary system, despite its quantitative measurement. You are either at 0 HP or you are not – you are either dead (or unconscious, system-dependent) or you are not. Thus you get scenarios in games like D&D 5e where a Fighter has taken a dagger to the gut and is dying, and a Paladin jogs over, with a pool of Healing Hands points, and decides to administer a single point of healing. The Fighter leaps back from death’s door and starts cutting through swarms of goblins again, as spry as when they got up from a nice comfy bed that morning, none the worse from his experience other than a mental note to raise their shield higher next time. Not to worry though, really, because the Paladin has four more points of healing where that came from if the Fighter gets hit again.

W M Goodes

I can get my mind around the fact that HP does not have to represent actually getting hurt, indicating perhaps a close shave or an adventurer’s expended effort to dodge a deadly blow, but I find this at odds with many aspects of D&D-based RPGs which deplete HP. Can you have a near miss with poisoned that doesn’t lead to you not being poisoned? A disease which takes away HP but otherwise doesn’t affect a character’s ability to jump around in energetic ways?

So how to impact a character’s efficacy?

I’ve become very enamoured with the inventory system popping up in a number of games at the moment, whereby you can carry your Strength (or Constitution) value’s number of items – forces players to make decisions without adding a vast layer of complexity. Knave takes this a bit further by determining that magic takes up inventory slots too since a character has to carry spell books around. Suddenly a character’s abilities depend upon what they can carry. A post on Buildings Are People then prompted me to think what else could take up inventory slots by suggesting that conditions like fatigue and hunger also weigh a person down.

I’ve seen a number of games (can’t for the life of me remember which ones) indicate an ideal number of HP hovers around the 20 mark, and these simple inventory systems range up to about 18 to 20, system-dependent). So, why not combine the two?

Here’s the slot section of a version of the character sheet we used for the Fever Swamp game:

Characters have a number of burden slots equal to 10 + their highest attribute (W&R’s attributes are just straight modifiers), or equal to your highest 3d6 generated attribute. Burden slots carry a PC’s equipment, magic spells (memorised or otherwise) and archetypal abilities – they represent what a character can mentally bear as much as what they can physically cope with, hence the possibility that they might carry as much as their Intelligence value.

Whenever that PC takes damage, they fill up that many slots with an Encumbrance. They can start with otherwise empty slots, but if these run out, then anything in further slots is either dropped (equipment) or rendered unusable (magic and abilities). Every rest allows the removal of one injury Encumbrance, or 1d4 injury Encumbrances if someone applies some healing herbs.

Other circumstances can grant an Encumbrance such as exhaustion or magical mishaps which might have their own additional effects. One exhaustion Encumbrance can be removed per rest, or all exhaustion Encumbrances are removed if the rest takes place in a nice bed.

Magic Encumbrances might wear off or require a spell or quest to get rid of them.

If all slots are filled with an encumbrance, the character has been killed (or is now subject to a roll on a horrendous death / spectacular survival table).

Thus characters start off more likely to survive their first levels than in many other OSR games, but being hurt will impact on their ability to function fully.

W M Goodes

W&R’s combat system functions a bit differently from most D&D-esque games in that it’s an opposed roll with the highest roller causing the difference in damage (reduced by armour) so that damage is inflicted more often but in smaller amounts. I would, however, be keen to see what ramifications this might have for play if it were attached to another system, and how other rules might need to be adjusted to accommodate it. I have, for example, considered removing the need to count torches, assuming that a character can carry flint and basic fuel and construct their own as they go – slots are more valuable. Certainly hirelings are going to be more valuable, and it would be another factor to consider when weighing up whether to call one’s followers into battle – again, forcing players into choices.

What are your thoughts? Are there aspects of affect gameplay I might have missed with this concept. Is healing too slow? The Fever Swamp game involved quite a bit of speeding through overland travel days, so injuries weren’t quite so impactful (though we did lose one PC to a warthog demon), but it might be a bit too much for a more hour-by-hour-based game.

2 thoughts on “Inventory as Hit Points

  1. Options to increase attributes or gain an archetypal ability (feat-lite, a nod towards classes). Higher attributes mean more slots / de facto HP, and some abilities allow for more to be carried without inflating a character's survivability.

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